Hardly anybody would march up to a crowd in person and announce their hate for all members of a certain ethnic group, race or religion just out of the blue. However, this is sometimes an everyday occurrence online, where the anonymity of an online profile affords users the confidence to make bold statements on social media.
One would think that in this day and age, we live in relative harmony at least in our real lives. While people may still have their differences, they have mostly learned to keep it civil in the community and at the workplace. Most countries have laws protecting minority groups from discrimination, and there are numerous organizations that champion freedom, tolerance and diversity. However, with the prevalence of hate speech in the online world, one may question if people really are living in harmony these days or if they have simply taken their quarrels elsewhere.
Social media is a golden platform for connecting people and allowing them to network, share news and air their personal opinions. Unfortunately, it is often also filled with negativity, one of which is hate speech. To share one’s personal views on social media is to open oneself up to a barrage of online attacks, sometimes fighting fire with fire. Many arguments over hate speech escalate into “flame wars”, where most commenters may not even remember what they were originally debating about, but rather resort to personal attacks and sometimes even threats. If words could kill, the participants would probably be dead many times over. Whether hate speech targets a single person or a group of people, it is undeniably destructive and violent.
What constitutes hate speech? There is no definite set of rules that can reliably identify hate speech for what it is. At its core, hate speech tends to attack people for having certain characteristics, such as their race, skin color, ethnic group, religion, gender or sexual orientation – essentially harassing, intimidating or calling for violence against people for who they are. Some hate speech comments may be general – for example, “I hate all members of a certain race”. Others may be targeted at a single person or generalizing all members of a group that the person belongs to. Hate speech can occur in varying severity, from voicing one’s opinion about a certain group or person to threatening them with violence, including statements about wanting to kill them.
by Γιάννης Λαλιώτης